Monday, March 30, 2015

Ultra-rare Nokia 7700 pops up for sale on eBay, sells for £1020

If you like to collect old phones, then this is a device that you might not have seen before. The Nokia 7700 was originally announced in 2004 but it was cancelled and never made it to production. It was going to be Nokia's first touchscreen phone, designed back in the days when phones were not as boring as today.

A handful of Nokia 7700s were produced as engineering prototypes and demonstration models. We have never been able to determine exactly how many, but there may be only a few dozen in existence.

It was something of a surprise therefore to see this auction pop up on eBay listing a "Rare NOKIA mobile phone unproduced model prototype F5 2005 M RAL-2" which is in fact a prototype version of the Nokia 7700.

The device isn't shown powered-up, but from the photographs it does seem to be fairly complete. We can't tell if it has a box or not. Whatever state it is in, it does seem to be attracting some interest from bidders.

It is hard to put a value on how much a working Nokia 7700 is worth because they are so rarely available. I have only seen two devices ever on the market (and I bought one of those!) priced at around £500 on each occasion.

You couldn't use a phone like this as a daily mobile - the prototype software is rather buggy and it doesn't support modern features such as 3G, WiFi or GPS. But from our experience, it is a carefully designed and very interesting example of what smartphones could have been before they all ended up as black slabs.

The auction finished and this (non-working!) handset raised an impressive £1020. So if you have one of these sitting about somewhere in a cupboard.. you know what to do!

Another (working) version has appeared here with a starting price of £1700.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nokia Lumia to become Microsoft Lumia.. is this the end of Nokia?

A few months ago we commented on Microsoft's takeover of Nokia and the paring down of the Nokia product line to leave basically just Windows devices and not much more. The next step in this process has now been announced, with Microsoft confirming that the Nokia brand will vanish from Lumia handsets and they will be branded Microsoft instead.

If you own a recent-ish Lumia, you may have noticed that there's hardly any mention of Nokia at all these days when it comes to the software, and it is really only the label on the outside of the phone that makes it obviously a Nokia. It's pretty clear that there's not much that needs to be done to make the transition complete.

Microsoft will continue to licence the Nokia name for low-end devices such as the Nokia 130, but it seems unlikely that this will be a market that Microsoft will really pay much attention to. So, for all intents and purposes.. Nokia is dead.

Well, dead in a way. Nokia itself still exists as a technology company, and the Lumia range will continue with the anticipated launch of the Lumia 1030 rumoured to be very soon. But the Nokia that everyone knows.. the Nokia that has probably sold at least one handset to most people who have owned a mobile phone.. will be gone.

That is a monumental change in the industry. Even a few years ago it seemed that Nokia was unassailable, and the idea that the handset division would end up in the hands of arch-rival Microsoft would be ridiculous. It isn't the only fallen giant this week either, Lenovo finally acquired the asset-stripped corpse of Motorola this week, and of course over the years we've seen key players vanish such as Palm, Ericsson, Siemens, Sagem.. but Nokia is the biggest to go down so far.

What Nokia will do next is an interesting question. Nokia's long history actually starts with forestry, paper, rubber, tyres, cables and then onto electronics and eventually mobile phones and other high-tech industries. Nokia's list of acquisitions and divestments over recent years is rather lengthy, and you can see that this is a company that continually evolves and reshapes itself.

But there is one intriguing possibility.. that Nokia could re-enter the handset market in its own right. Of course, this is limited by whatever the largely secret non-compete agreement is between Nokia and Microsoft, but some of the rumours say that Nokia would be free to enter the market again in some form in 2016.

We suspect that some of these rumours are simply wishful thinking. Nokia quit the mass-market mobile phone business for good reasons, but it could well have some interesting developments under way in new markets, perhaps in wearables for example. But we will have to wait and see what Nokia does next.. that is a secret that perhaps not even Nokia yet knows.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

First impressions: Apple iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3

The Apple iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini 3 are the latest iterations of Apple's popular tablet line-up, coming almost exactly one year after the previous versions. Neither device is particularly groundbreaking, but Apple have made them both better in different ways.

Apple iPad Air 2

The Apple iPad Air 2 is almost impossibly thin, coming in at just 6.1mm thick, 1.4mm thinner than the original iPad Air, and it is over 30 grams lighter too coming in at 437 grams for the WiFi version or 444 grams for the WiFi + LTE variant.
The screen size and resolution and the footprint of the iPad Air 2 is identical to the Air, with a 9.7" 2048 x 1536 panel, although now it is fully laminated and has an anti-reflective coating. The camera on the back has been upgraded from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels and it now has a burst mode. The Air 2 retains the 1.2 megapixel camera on the front.

Underneath the new A8X CPU and M8 motion coprocessor are said by Apple to be 40% faster than the original iPad Air. The iPad Air 2 also supports Apple's new Touch ID fingerprint-sensing payment system.

Available colours will be Silver, Gold and Space Gray with 16GB, 64GB or 128GB of storage (the iPad Air maxed out at only 32GB). As previously mentioned there is a WiFi only version or one with cellular connectivity too, and US prices will range between $499 to $829.

Pre-orders start on October 17th with shipments staring next week in most major markets worldwide.

Apple iPad Mini 3

There's not a world of difference between the Apple iPad Mini 3 and last year's iPad Mini 2, except the Mini 3 now supports Touch ID and comes with much more internal storage with 16GB, 64GB and 128GB versions as the Air 2 does.
There's still a 7.9" 2048 x 1536 pixel display, 5 megapixel primary camera plus a 1.2 megapixel front-facing one. Available colours will also be Silver, Space Gray and Gold with WiFi and WiFi + cellular versions, US prices range from $399 to $729. The iPad Mini 3 will ship at pretty much the same time and in similar markets to the iPad Air 2.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

First impressions: HTC Desire Eye and RE

The "Desire" name has been applied to many HTC handsets over the years, from the original flagship Android device to the current range of midrange and budget smartphones. The HTC Desire Eye is the latest addition to the Desire range, which  pushes it into uncharted territory with a device that challenges the class-leading HTC One M8 in terms of features.

This is a high-end device and the immediately obvious feature is that it has a 13 megapixel camera on both the front and the back of the phone. We've seen "selfie" phones like this before, but the Desire Eye takes it to a new level. Another obvious feature is the large 5.2" 1080 x 1920 pixel display on the front, bigger than the One M8 but with the same resolution.
Inside is a 2.3GHz quad-core CPU with 2GB of RAM, essentially the same as in the HTC One M8, along with 16GB of flash storage plus a microSD slot. In almost all features the Desire Eye is as good as the One M8 or is better, except that the One M8 does come with a gorgeous (but expensive) metal case where the Desire Eye is somewhat simpler.

Even though the One M8 has been a successful device, the trick dual 4 megapixel camera on the back is seen as both over complicated and lacking when it comes to its pixel count. To some extent the cheaper HTC One E8 resolves the camera issue by packing a 13 megapixel primary camera and simpler case design, so conceptually the Desire Eye is probably more closely related to the One E8 than the One M8.

The camera comes with all sorts of clever editing tricks that can be done automatically rather then firing up Photoshop, and many of these features will be rolled out to other recent HTC smartphones via a software update.

Initial reports say that the HTC Desire Eye will be available on AT&T in the US next month with other regions following. No guidance was given on price.

Launched alongside the HTC Desire Eye is the RE - a waterproof periscope-like remote camera accessory that can be used for taking photos or recording video. Selfies feature again here, but the RE can also be used as a personal camcorder in a similar way to a GoPro. This appears to be heading to the US in the first instance with other markets to follow.

Both these devices show promise and manage to offer something different from the competition, although with the Desire Eye a lot of the desirability will come down to price as well as the feature set.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

First impressions: Apple Watch

Apple's new smartwatch has been awaited for a long time, and finally Apple have made it official with the launch of the Apple Watch. No, not iWatch.. just Watch. In fact, there are several different versions in different sizes and materials, which is a bit confusing at first.

As with the iPhone, Apple have entered the market some time after the competition, but they are hoping that the unique features of the Watch will win customers over. One key difference is that a lot of the control of the Apple Watch is done through the "digital crown" on the side, a sort of high-tech clickwheel. Of course, it's a touchscreen as well, but using both control devices might well make it easier than just a touchscreen alone.

In terms of looks, the Apple Watch has some exquisite details, but it doesn't look much different from a whole set of other smartwatches. Remember that we've seen a couple of circular displays on Android Wear smartwatches, but the Apple Watch has a plain rectangular one.

As you might expect, this is not a standalone device and it needs to integrate with a compatible iPhone (5 onwards). Of course, Android users have more choice of devices, but until now Apple users had none at all.

With a built-in heart-rate monitor, gyroscope and a pedometer, combined with integration into iOS 8's Health app and a whole load of built-in applications, then it seems that the Watch is designed to be a fitness companion along with all the other features. Some other features including Emoji-type messaging and a maps application with something called "tactic feedback" which helps you know which way to turn.

The Apple Watch has its own wireless charging system that clamps onto the back magnetically. There are a choice of six straps, including leather ones and sports ones with either traditional or magnetic clasps. Large and small versions are available, plus a "sport" version with a tougher casing and of course there's a gold one too.

Some novel features with the Watch include an application to find where you parked your BMW, an electronic key system for Starwood Hotels (presumably using NFC), and you can use it as a ticket for American Airlines as well.

You'll have a bit of a wait for the Apple Watch, Apple say that it should be available from early next year with prices starting at $349.

19:10 09/09/2014

First impressions: Apple iPhone 6 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus

An expanded version of this article can be found here.
The Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are Apple's latest generation of their iconic and influential smartphone, only this time they take a break from the past and are much bigger devices. The Apple iPhone 6 has a 4.7" 750 x 1334 pixel display, the larger Apple iPhone 6 Plus comes with a 5.5" 1080 x 1920 pixel screen which is roughly the same thing that most of the competition has.

Apps are meant to scale up to use the new screen resolutions, although really they would benefit from an overhaul from the developers if there are problems. The iPhone 6 Plus also fully supports landscape mode (something that is patchy on Android devices) which opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Or problems, depending on your point of view.

On the back of these is an 8 megapixel camera which is a bit humdrum these days, however Apple have now added optical image stabilisation (OIS) which Nokia have proved can really improve picture quality. Both models can record 1080p video at 60 frames per second, with a maximum frame capture rate of 240 fps. The front camera has also been improved in order to create better selfies, and it now includes a burst mode.

Physically, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are curved around the edges a bit like the early iPhones, but with design hints of the newer iPhones too.

One new feature is Apple Pay - Apple's take on a mobile contactless payment system. This uses the iPhone 6's built-in NFC capabilities, but Apple have combined with "Touch ID" which uses the built-in fingerprint scanner to verify the user, and have also added a chipset called "Secure Element" to keep your financial data encrypted. This sort of mobile payment system has been struggling to get a foothold, but Apple have several key retailers on board in the US (where the system will launch) and perhaps this is the push it needs.

Underneath, both these iPhones are now 64-bit devices, running on the new Apple A8 processor. There's also a new motion coprocessor, the M8, which helps to take the load off the main CPU. The operating system has also been upgraded to iOS 8 which should run apps faster, with an emphasis on gaming abilities. The iPhone 6 comes with 16GB, 64GB or an impressive 128GB of onboard flash storage.

Apple say that the battery life is better (which in part will be because the battery can be bigger) with a 25% improvement with the iPhone 6 and a whopping 100% improvement with the iPhone 6 Plus. Even with the longer battery life, the iPhone 6 comes in at just 6.9mm thick and the 6 Plus is 7.1mm.

Both devices will start to ship from September 19th onwards in the US. The base model is the 16GB iPhone 6 at $199 when taken with a new two-year contract, the most expensive is the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus which is $399 with the new contract. The price differential between the Plus and the smaller iPhone 6 is $100. Apple say that they are aiming for these phones to be available in 115 countries by the end of the year. Available colours are gold, silver and space gray.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Nokia: the end of history

Yesterday Microsoft, the new owner of the Nokia handset business, wielded the axe of their newly acquired unit cutting around 40% of the staff and all their product lines except for the Lumia smartphones [1] [2] [3].

Although most industry observers suspected that something like this would eventually be on the cards, the speed at which this has taken place is surprising.

But let's just think about what has happened. It doesn't just mean that the  Nokia X range of Android phones will be canned (including the X2 announced a few weeks ago), but there are also reports that this extends to the entire product line including the very popular Asha devices, venerable Series 40 feature phones and even the billion-selling Series 30 dumbphones.

That's everything that Nokia was ever built on. Sure, we won't miss the Nokia X platform, but probably almost everyone who has owned a phone will have owned a Series 30 or Series 40 Nokia at some point.. and will probably remember it fondly.

This joins the graveyard of Nokia operating systems - one of Stephen Elop's first actions as CEO of Nokia was to kill off the Symbian and MeeGo operating systems. Back in the distant past there was also the Series 90 touchscreen OS. Nokia even flirted with Linux-based devices before canning those. The list goes on.

So Nokia is just about Lumia now? Well, yes and no.. because it is reported that Microsoft can only use the NOKIA name until the end of 2015, at which point presumably they will be branded LUMIA instead. So is this the end of Nokia?

It seems that Nokia are barred from producing mobile devices until the end of 2015, and after that they are restricted from making smartphones for several more years.. but we don't know exactly how the agreement defines a smartphone (for example, we count the Asha range as feature phones, not smartphones). So it doesn't look great from that point of view.

However, with the handset business gone Nokia can act much more like a startup and think out-of-the-box. I strongly suspect that Nokia will re-enter the mobile device market in some form as soon as it can, after all there is still a large amount of brand loyalty and Nokia can be the masters of design and usability. So perhaps we haven't seen the last of Nokia.. but it seems that we have seen the last of Nokia's awesome legacy in the mobile phone world.